Family Uses Sleep Consultants to Get Fussy Toddler to Bed
(NEW YORK) -- An earth-shattering scream could be heard, as a toddler cried over and over again for her mother from her bedroom.
Two-year-old Mia wasn't screaming because she was sick or hurt. In fact, just minutes before bed, she was happily playing downstairs. But like young children all over the country, Mia just didn't want to go to sleep.
Her parents, Danielle and Marcello, who asked that their last name not be used, were doing a terrible tango every day, trying to get their daughter to go to bed and sleep through the night. Mia wakes up between four and five times every night and often ends up in her parents' bed.
"We just don't sleep," Danielle said. "We are up anywhere from three to six times a night with one of the kids."
Mia isn't the only problem. The couple has a 9-month-old baby named Emily, who also didn't sleep.
Between the two children, the parents were up almost all night long.
"I get anywhere from three to four hours of sleep a night and it's not consecutive sleep," Danielle said.
A typical night was putting Mia down at 7:30 p.m., but she only falls asleep if her mother is in the room, which Danielle said could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. And once Mia was asleep, she didn't stay that way.
"Between midnight and 2 a.m., she is screaming so loud that I am afraid she is going to wake Emmy up and I am afraid she is going to hurt herself," Danielle said. "So at that point the only thing that consoled her was giving her a bottle and bringing her into bed with us."
Meanwhile, Emily wasn't sleeping like a baby either. She was often up three or four times a night.
"Emily I rock to sleep," Danielle said. "When she wakes up I pick her up, I haven't even tried to sleep train Emily."
The couple was at their breaking point. Both worked full time and with the lack of sleep and chaos at bedtime, their lives were spiraling out of control.
"Marcello and I don't have a life because we spend our nights trying to get our kids to bed and by the time we're done, we haven't eaten," Danielle said. "On a typical night it's 9 p.m. and we haven't eaten."
So they took drastic action and hired a paid sleep consultant -- an increasing trend among stressed out parents. Danielle said she was ready to give up her life savings to get some structure to bedtime.
"They are not bad children," she said. "They just don't have the structure they need. They are not sleeping."
The family turned to "Dream Team Baby," a group of sleep consultants that specialize in young children. Conner Herman and her colleague Kira Ryan go into families' homes and help parents take back the night.
Sleep training small children is a booming business. "Dream Team Baby" charges close to $2,000 for an overnight stay and follow-up support, though they did not charge Danielle and Marcello to let Nightline tell their story.
"A parent can absolutely do this by themselves," Herman said. "Unfortunately a lot of parents are over extended already and for this family they have been through a lot and having the confidence that their child can put herself to sleep, that there is nothing wrong, they are not going to have to help her in any way, is sometimes hard."
Their method is simple: Black out the windows so the room is completely dark, turn on a sound machine to drown out any noise, then put the baby to bed and walk away.
"We are teaching parents to believe in their children," Ryan said. "We really believe that after four months, children are ready to be successful at sleeping through the night."
In other words, the sleep experts were going to let Mia cry. The Dream Team will sleep on the floor of her room for the night to be sure Mia is safe.
The cry-it-out method is not for everyone. Even though a five-year recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that letting a baby cry caused no long-lasting harm, some parents and doctors are not comfortable with it.
Dr. Harvey Karp, the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block books and DVDs, said that when a child cries in the middle of the night, he could be in distress.
"I would think of crying out in a kind of a similar way to spanking," Karp said. "Spanking can work, a lot of people will tell you that it's the best thing, that's what worked for their kids. But it fundamentally doesn't feel right and it teaches them the wrong message."
For the Dream Team, the cry-it-out method is the most effective way to give the child when it needs most -- a good night's sleep -- and the ability to learn how to self-soothe.
"A good night's sleep is a great, wonderful thing and that is something you will be giving to your child and that is something to celebrate," Herman said. "On the other hand, if you are interested in having your child get healthy sleep, it's important for them to have control of that sleep. When you decide you are ready for your child to have that, you are going to have to change your behavior."
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio